Police investigating the deaths of three teenagers in a crush outside a disco have done a good job, a senior officer has said.
Lauren Bullock, 17, Morgan Barnard, 17, and 16-year-old Connor Currie died near the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, on St Patrick’s Night last month.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton (pictured) said the hotel owner’s arrest and subsequent de-arrest in a drugs probe was a regrettable “distraction” from the focus of the investigation.
He added: “The organisation I am responsible for, as far as I am concerned, is competent in this matter. The investigation team and local police have done a good job, not to be self-congratulatory in such tragic circumstances. It is a human endeavour and sometimes judgements are not quite right.”
Mr Hamilton told his Policing Board scrutiny committee in Belfast he had referred his force’s handling of initial reports of the tragedy to the independent Police Ombudsman for review.
The owner of the Greenvale, Michael McElhatton, identified himself as the one of those arrested and later released on suspicion of manslaughter. He accused police of trying to “blacken” his name over swiftly-dispelled drugs suspicions after officers searched his home and found unidentified powder.
Mr Hamilton acknowledged the episode did not look good. He said: “It is regrettable that it took the attention away from the investigation for a few days. For me, that distraction regarding the drugs arrest and de-arrest was exactly that. The officers who carried out the arrest did so on the basis of having the reasonable suspicion required. That was all done appropriately and we certainly would not have been putting out the identity of anyone arrested prior to charge in the courts.”
Police have identified hundreds of witnesses to the teenagers’ deaths.
The area outside the hotel was packed with young people dropped off by buses just before the popular nightspot opened. Investigators said teenagers were trodden underfoot during the crush near the entrance to the disco.
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin said the area had become a “valley of tears” following the tragedies.